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Works Thomas Girtin

A Sheet of Figure Studies

1801 - 1802

Primary Image: TG1899: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Sheet of Figure Studies, 1801–02, graphite and watercolour on wove paper, 18 × 11.2 cm, 7 ⅛ × 4 ⅜ in. Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (WA1912.4.4).

Photo courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Sheet of Figure Studies
1801 - 1802
Medium and Support
Graphite and watercolour on wove paper
18 × 11.2 cm, 7 ⅛ × 4 ⅜ in
Object Type
Outline Drawing
Subject Terms
Figure Studies

Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
484c as 'Various figures and dogs'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001, 2002 and 2018


Thomas Calvert Girtin (1801–74); then by descent to George Wyndham Hog Girtin (1835–1911); then by a settlement to his sister, Mary Hog Barnard (née Girtin) (1828–99); then by descent to Francis Pierrepont Barnard (1854–1931); presented to the Museum, 1912

Exhibition History

London, 2002, no.93


Brown, 1982, p.342, no.748 as 'Presumably another Paris study'

About this Work

There is no intrinsic reason why the studies of working figures and dogs shown on this sheet could not have been studied from life, but four, at least, first appeared in watercolours by Girtin that are dated 1799 and 1800, and it is likely that all of them were copied from one source or another. The two male figures in the top right and lower right are, for instance, grouped together in the foreground of Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear from 1799 (TG1074), where they are shown repairing the weir, whilst a woman with a bundle of sticks on her head, located at the top of the sheet, and a bending figure with a scythe, just below, both appear in A Farmyard with Barns, Ladder and Figures from 1800 (TG1658a). Likewise, the classical-looking female with a basket on her head, shown at the top right, appears in various configurations in Girtin’s finished watercolours, though in this case the pose was probably originally borrowed from an earlier artist such as Marco Ricci (1676–1730) (see TG1723 figure 2). Girtin copied prints after Ricci’s works on a number of occasions (such as TG0880), and one of these provided the prototype of a pose that reappears in views as varied as A Distant View of Arundel Castle (TG1567) and The West Front of Jedburgh Abbey (TG1231). 

The paper historian Peter Bower has identified the wove paper used by Girtin as probably French in origin, suggesting that the assemblage of figures was made during the artist’s stay in Paris between the end of November 1801 and April 1802, rather than having been created to take with him to the French capital, as I initially assumed (Smith, 2002b, p.119; Bower, Report). It seems, therefore, that Girtin sketched the figures from memory, as it is unlikely that he brought the watercolours with him, though his precise motive in making this sheet remains unclear. If he worked from memories of his own compositions, the poses would not have functioned as models for his own use. However, perhaps the sheet of replica poses functioned like the studies he copied from his own sketches into the Whitworth Book of Drawings (TG1601, TG1604 and TG1620), produced either for sale as an example of his skills as a draughtsman or, perhaps more likely, to show potential patrons the sort of staffage that might be incorporated into commissioned watercolours.


Durham Cathedral and Castle, from the River Wear



A Farmyard with Barns, Ladder and Figures; A Sky Study


1800 - 1801

An Imaginary City, with Antique Buildings


1799 - 1800

A Distant View of Arundel Castle, from the South


1796 - 1797

The West Front of Jedburgh Abbey


(?) 1801

Chelsea Reach, Looking towards Battersea


(?) 1800

Grimbald Bridge, near Knaresborough


(?) 1801

Middleham Village, with the Castle Beyond


by Greg Smith

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